By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
June 22, 2008
Read: Genesis 21:8-21
Do the promises of God to Sarah and Abraham mean that others can legitimately be cast aside? If one person receives the blessing of God, does that mean that another person is deprived of God’s blessing? Does my being blessed by God mean that I can claim a special status for myself? What rights and responsibilities accompany the blessings of God? These are a few of the questions raised by this unsettling story from the first book of the Bible, Genesis.
You know this story. Abraham and Sarah were unable to conceive a child for years and years and years. Sarah gave up on God’s promise that they would have many descendants. She asked her husband, Abraham, to be with Hagar, their servant, so that he might have a male child to inherit and take care of them in their old age. Hagar did indeed get pregnant and bear a child, named Ishmael. However, it was difficult for Sarah to come to terms with her decision. She became jealous of Hagar. And when Sarah bore their miracle child, Isaac; her jealousy and fear that her husband’s first-born would take something away from her and her son, drove her to do something ugly. She wanted Hagar and Ishmael cast out. Sarah is human, with human shortcomings. She could not fathom the abundance of God’s love. She limited God by not seeing that God could fulfill His promises. She was afraid. And she did something ugly.
Can you feel Hagar’s pain and confusion? She had done nothing wrong, really. And when Hagar was cast out into the desert, her desert was a literal one. Today, ours are often deserts of the mind or heart. Leaving a job after learning the real reason it had become intolerable….Why had my name been used in a lie? What possible motivation could other professionals have had to stoop so low? One had once been betrayed by male ministers. Was she, like Sarah perhaps, just passing it on?
Sometimes our only choice is to sit in the desert and wait for God. Hagar’s story is for those desert times in our lives. They are the times when we have been enslaved or betrayed, when we feel expendable because the power structures of our lives seem oblivious to our gifts. Most of all, Hagar’s story is for the times when we have been rejected or abandoned and need more than anything to hear God’s voice. Because in those times God’s presence is required to open our eyes, so that we can see the well that contains that water of consolation, mercy and assurance. (Mary Zimmer, from “Hagar: God’s Comfort and Protection,” in Sister Images: Guided Meditations on the Stories of Biblical Women)
Today’s Forward Day by Day meditation reads: “Cast out, hopeless, cut off without a future, without a way to live, scorned, left waterless in a desert where her little boy Ishmael way dying, Hagar wept. Sometimes tears are the only prayer that speaks the truth: the truth of desolation. No bargaining here, no begging, no offerings: just a cry from someone who has nothing left but tears.
God heard Hagar’s cry. All though the Bible, God hears the cry no one else does. Long years later, God would hear the cry of enslaved Hebrews, and bring them out of Egypt with a mighty arm. Hagar would never belong to Israel. Yet God gave her a future, a family, a promise, and—immediately—the water of life.
When people are pushed out of the greater story the world reads and must live their life as they can in the margins, there is One who hears their cry. When you are desolate, whether in silence, in words or in tears, cry out to the One who saves!”
Now, this doesn’t mean everything is alright. Hagar is still hurt, she must still find food and shelter and raise a young boy by herself. It’s not like she won the lottery and has no more cares in the world. Nothing about the situation has changed all that much, except that God has shown care for her when no one else would. But sometimes, that makes all the difference. Hagar learned that precious few situations are genuinely hopeless, even when things seem at their worst.
Ishmael means God hears. God hears our cries when no one else does. God knows and loves us individually. The hairs on our head are counted. Let us listen with fresh ears to Hagar. Perhaps we will be the one God sends out to the desert with the cup of cold water. Amen.
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